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Arlington Helping Hands Thrift Store target of thefts, vandalism

Helping Hands Thrift Store Director Lana Lasley, right, and secretary Shirley Mclane sort through donated items on Wednesday, March 17. Volunteers said the store, which recently announced it had donated $17,000 to community organizations, has seen a string of thefts and vandalism in recent weeks. - Adam Rudnick
Helping Hands Thrift Store Director Lana Lasley, right, and secretary Shirley Mclane sort through donated items on Wednesday, March 17. Volunteers said the store, which recently announced it had donated $17,000 to community organizations, has seen a string of thefts and vandalism in recent weeks.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — The staff at the Helping Hands Thrift Store has experienced problems before, but nothing like this.

When volunteer Shirley Mclane arrived to the Arlington store on Monday, March 15, she found that somebody had hopped the back fence and thrown pieces of clothing and dishes everywhere.

“We had to crawl all over that stuff to get to our back doors,” Mclane said.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t surprised.

Helping Hands, a volunteer-run store located near Haller Park and the Arlington Food Bank, has routinely been the target of break-ins and thefts during the past few weeks, staff members said.

“There’s been vandalism every day of the week,” said Helping Hands President Roland Kirby.

The store offers residents who don’t have much money a place to purchase clothes, household items and toys for cheap — volunteers charge $3 for as many items they can fit in a bag.

But instead of negotiating with volunteers about prices, a lot of the time patrons just take whatever they want, Mclane said.

“We have a lot of homeless people come in, and if they need something, we’ll give it to them,” she said.

“That’s why it really distresses us when they steal from us,” added Lana Lasley, director and treasurer of Helping Hands.

While some people simply steal or ruin items from the store’s donation bin in the back, others are more brave, and take items that are located just over the back fence.

Mclane said that she’s even had people cut pieces of the plastic tarps that help keep donated items dry near the back area. Those pieces are then used by homeless people to sleep on at night.

Thieves have even unscrewed and stolen light bulbs, she said.

“Once I walked on the trail between (Helping Hands) and the food bank and there was a pile of dog poop,” Mclane said. “That means that somebody put their dog over the fence.”

In addition to breaking in and taking items from the store’s back area during off-hours, some patrons simply steal items when Helping Hands is open.

“I had one woman just pick up an item, look at it, and take it,” Lasley said. “This is the thanks we get for our donations.”

Helping Hands recently announced that it had donated $17,000 to a number of charities, including the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, Dollars for Scholars, the Arlington High School Band Boosters, the Special Olympics, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the city fire department’s Support 46 Services and the food bank.

The store, which has been in Arlington for 40 years, takes donations between 9 a.m. and noon Monday, Wednesday, Friday and 10 a.m. to noon on most Saturdays. Those items are sorted by volunteers and re-sold to community members.

“Every day is bag day,” Lasley said. “There’s no cheaper place, and it’s for the people who need it most.”

Because of the recent thefts, Helping Hands staff are asking donators to drop off items during business hours or on Saturdays.

“Then we can have a chance to get it in the building,” Mclane said.

Staff members said they have contacted the police and filed out reports about crimes they have seen, but said that authorities have not done much to curtail the thefts and vandalism.

“They suggest we stay the night in the building, but most of us are women and we don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Mclane said.

Arlington Police Chief Bob Sullenberger said that there hadn’t been any calls placed or official reports filed through the department, adding that he would have been surprised if any officer told volunteers to stay on the premises at nighttime.

“We would want to step up our patrols in the area if they had discovered anything,” Sullenberger said. “We’ve had some car break-ins at Haller Park because people leave their cars there, but that’s about it.”

City of Arlington spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said that the only information that the police department has received about Helping Hands was an anonymous, unconfirmed report regarding thefts at the store.

“We have not been contacted to date by any person representing Helping Hands (an employee or a board member) regarding thefts, either by a 911 call or by a report being made at the Police Station,” Banfield wrote in an e-mail, adding that one of the department’s patrol teams will be increasing patrols in the area based on The Arlington Times’ inquiry for more information.

Helping Hands Thrift Store is located at 127 West Cox Avenue, Arlington.

For more information about the store, call 360-474-0282.

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